A woman has been sitting in our lobby for 71 minutes. Patiently waiting. Sitting and chatting. More precisely, a candidate for our administrative/bookkeeper position has been sitting patiently for more than an hour. Part of this is her own doing - she was 20 minutes early; part of it is happenstance - our branch manager had another meeting this morning that is running muuuuuch longer than expected. She's not concerned; she's willing to wait.

This is a huge point in her favour. She has been speaking with our recruitment manager and our current administrator, and has been demonstrating how personable and professional she is - two key points to this position.

But I'm not writing this to talk about her; I'm writing this to talk about me (is there any topic more important?).

I have held positions for the last 5 or 6 years that have included recruiting and interviewing as main tasks. This is no coincidence. I like doing this. However, recently, my interviewing is more straightforward. Often, it comes in the form of "networking", so that by the time I am proposing a candidate to a client, I have already met and spoken with this person a multitude of times. The final "interview" acts more as a fine tuning of a proposal, rather than a qualifying interrogation. This process works for me, but I am kind of missing out.

Years ago, when I was in retail, my district manager suggested that at the end of all interviews I could ask candidates to "sell me this pencil" (referring to the mechanical pencil I had been using during the interview). It was a pretty great question. I learned next to nothing about the candidate's sales ability, but I learned a lot about the person's temperament. It was a frivolous question, but I wanted to find people who would take the request seriously. That would say a lot about how they would approach the job.

I have done other "tricky" things. I once had a candidate for an admin position express an interest to eventually get into HR. At the end of the interview, I asked her to grade my interviewing techniques (since hiring can be part of HR duties). Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my colleague (who shared the office space) shuddering as he tried not to laugh.

The point of this blog post is that I miss doing a lot of these things - these interviewing tricks - and I think I should re-focus and try to work them back into my interviewing process. The problem is that when I'm interviewing a Project Manager with 30 years experience, I can't really ask him to "sell me this pencil". I guess I'll just have to learn some new techniques. [tips welcome!]

P.S. Regarding "sell me this pencil", it was a damned nice pencil. I looked through all the pencils at the office supply store and picked that one out for a variety of reasons. When a candidate couldn't think of at least one good thing to say about my pencil, it irked me. How dare they be so dismissive of my pencil!

[Orignally posted at jonathanmcleodrecruiting.blogspot.com at 10:49 am.

Views: 111

Comment by Steve Levy on June 3, 2009 at 6:00pm
...but you can ask him to manage the program that was developed to help sales people "sell the pencil."
Comment by pam claughton on June 4, 2009 at 10:04am
I've never been a fan of interviewing 'tricks' like that. I think you run the risk of losing the respect and interest of a star candidate who could be turned off when you ask her/him to sell you the pencil. That's been the feedback I've gotten from candidates when they're hit with weird/frivolous nonsense questions like this. You have to remember that it's not just you deciding which candidate, it's also the candidate choosing, or not choosing you, so why risk putting them off with odd behavior?
Comment by Tom Janz on June 4, 2009 at 12:25pm
The problem with interviewing tricks is that they introduce lots of randomness unrelated to job performance. The proven effective road to nailing top talent remains focusing in on behavior descriptions of specific achievements/challenges closely related to how successful performers create value on the job. Interview tricks can reveal useful information in some instances, but in others they will leave great performers confused and speechless or give the pretenders a platform on which to pretend. Short of building a comprehensive competency model and linking questions to the model, ask candidates to... "Describe their three most valuable job-related achievements-- detailing what they achieved, how they measured value, how it got started, the most important lesson they learned, and the time when they put that learning to best use." But then, what do I know? I am just a Canadian Organizational Psychologist who published research and wrote the book on behavioral intervieiwng.
Comment by Steve Levy on June 4, 2009 at 12:55pm
Howdy Tom,

I too did that I/O thing and know that the best predictor of what one will do tomorrow is what they do today (somewhat oversimplified but I know you understand). However, this doesn't preclude a savvy interview team from throwing in "oddball" questions to all candidates and consistently so. Naturally, it really helps to have an a priori consensus of how to ask these questions and even more important, how to "score" the answers. As long as the constructs are agreed upon and there's a sufficient amount of internal and external validity to the model and the usage of the answers, I'm very comfortable with these creative process questions.

As far as randomness, if only all interviewing teams were properly trained in and regularly used the techniques we often call "standard."
Comment by Jonathan McLeod on June 4, 2009 at 3:40pm
I'm glad to read all the thoughtful comments on this post. Thanks Tom, Pam and Steve. I've really grown to appreciate what kind of resource RecruitingBlogs is. I'm sure you will all help me get better at my job.

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